On May 4, 2019, in downtown Cherkasy, a city in central Ukraine, passersby found Vadym Komarov, an investigative reporter with local daily Dzvin, unconscious with severe head injuries indicative of being beaten with a heavy object, according to news reports. Following the assault, the journalist was in a coma until he died on June 20, national information agency UNIAN reported.
The attack took place one day after Komarov posted on Facebook that he planned to publish news on alleged corruption among local authorities in the use of public funds for the construction of a gymnastics complex. Komarov often reported on corruption among local politicians and officials in Dzvin and on his personal Facebook and YouTube pages, according to CPJ’s review of his reporting.
Sergiy Tomilenko, head of the National Union of Journalists of Ukraine, a trade organization representing the country’s staff and freelance journalists, told CPJ that Komarov had received threats in the past, and that “the only reason for an assault and subsequent death of Komarov was his journalism.”
“He was an inconvenient person for many local politicians. He raised annoying questions about corruption in Cherkasy, raised important topics that resonated in the society,” Tomilenko told CPJ.
The journalist had previously survived an attempt on his life in 2016, when an unidentified person shot at him but missed, according to the BBC.
The day before Komarov was killed, unidentified individuals stole documents relating to a story about the same gymnastics complex from National Union of Journalists Secretary Valeriy Makeyev, according to a Facebook post by Makeyev. CPJ reached Makeyev via phone but he declined to comment on the case, citing a pending investigation.
On the day of the attack, the Cherkasy police department issued a statement announcing that it had opened an investigation. On May 5, the case was classified as attempted murder, according to local news reports. Those reports noted that the journalist’s money and cell phone had remained untouched during the attack.
CPJ called and emailed the Cherkasy police department, but representatives declined to comment.
On June 20, the Ukrainian national police released pictures of a suspect in the attack, depicting a tall thin man, with an appeal to the public to help in his identification.
On June 27, Ukrainian authorities issued a statement to the Council of Europe saying that the official pre-trial investigation into Komarov’s killing was considering his investigative reporting as a possible motive, and that the Parliamentary Committee on Freedom of Speech and Information Policy was monitoring the investigation.